James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, May 02, 2008

Further Thoughts on "Divided They Fail"

Suppose you see yourself as a hard-core libertarian. Who would you rather win an election: a pro-gay marriage candidate who wants to nuke Iran and invade the Sudan, or an anti-gay marriage candidate who wants to end undeclared wars and bring the troops home? To me, the answer is clear: I want peace, liberty, and legal equality, but peace must come first.

Likewise, I want to get rid of the national oppressor before the local oppressor, because the national oppressor oppresses more people. In elections, would prefer Libertarian Party candidates first, Constitution Party candidates second, and nobody else third, because of this.

What sparked my piece "Divided They Fail" was the fact that Libertarian Party members were embarrassed and angry that Mary Ruwart, seeking the Party's nomination for President, takes the libertarian position on child sex and child pornography.

It's as if Ruwart was disqualified as a spokesperson for libertarian principles - which is essentially what an LP Presidential candidate is supposed to be - because she held to libertarian principles even in a particularly tough and controversial case. It made me, like this commenter G.E. at Third Party Watch, think that I'd rather vote for the Constitution Party's Chuck Baldwin and know I'm getting a "consistent Constitutionalist" than support an LP candidate who somehow draws the best line between aiming to be principled and aiming to please.

The LP's problem is that it tries to do two things. First, it tries to be ideological, and recruit individuals willing to "certify in writing that they oppose the initiation of force to achieve political or social goals." Second, it tries be a political party dedicated to shrinking the size of government - the federal government first and foremost. It can do both, but it can't succeed at both.

  • If the LP is to be radical and hard-core, its leader should be a consistent libertarian. Of course, this won't win many votes or lead to long-term growth, which makes one wonder if the Libertarian Party as an outreach tool was a good idea whose time has passed in the Internet Age.
  • If the LP's purpose is to win elections and take power on a small-government platform, well of course Ruwart's position on child porn won't help. But if there are differences of opinion on this issue, then there will definitely be differences on major issues as well. Libertarians will differ on specific solutions and the next steps to take. One says sales taxes are worse than income taxes, another says the opposite. Person A says get rid of the welfare state first and then immigration laws, Person B says says the order of what gets repealed first doesn't matter. The one will accuse the other of "betraying" libertarianism.
I respect LP members who want to remain hard-core. It just seems to me that those who would agree with the hard-core position the most will take it to the logical conclusion of not voting and not participating in party politics at all. It is very conceivable that a person could move from frustrated Republican or frustrated Democrat, to being drawn to the Libertarian Party message, to getting deeper and deeper into the libertarian philosophy, to becoming a non-voting anarchist - all within a two-year election cycle. Guess what - the Libertarian Party would have done its job! All too well, in fact - it never does get this person's vote. I respect the hard-core line, but I would suggest building agorist activist organizations and educational institutions would be a better use of their time than campaigning in elections. If nothing else, ballot access laws make their efforts inefficient at best. The sheer irony of a "libertarian" party trying to win power is another drawback. But if that's how some hard-core libertarians want to spend their time and money, I respect that.

I have a bigger problem respecting LP members who a) condemn Mary Ruwart, and/or b) supported Ron Paul, but would never consider an alliance with Constitution Party members. (For the record: I'm not a current LP member, I agree with Ruwart, and I supported Ron Paul.) They won't forgive Ruwart for her consistency, they will forgive Ron Paul for his deviations, but they'll write off the CP as theocrats - even though their differences with libertarianism are in many of the the same areas Ron Paul deviates from it.

I'm not sure what the problem is. The CP opposes abortion because, supposedly, they're religious nutjobs, whereas Ron Paul and pro-life libertarians have a different but principled view of when human rights begin. The CP doesn't believe the First Amendment applies to the states because, supposedly, they're theocrats, whereas Ron Paul - who has sponsored legislation expressing this view - just has an unorthodox but logical interpretation of the Constitution. (For the record, I agree with Paul's view: if the First Amendment was meant to apply to the states, either it or the Fourteenth Amendment would have said so explicitly.)

I think the objections are special pleading. I think libertarians resent the paleoconservative's finger-wagging condescension toward libertarianism, and I think paleoconservatives resent the libertarian's stridency and abstractions. Both sides (except the most hard-core of each) give Ron Paul a pass, and are willing to disagree with him on a few points and still love him, but they won't support anyone else who could bridge this divide.

I'm not asking members of either party to set aside their principles. I'm asking them instead to come together and form a party based on their many points of agreement.

I'm calling for a national party focused strictly on the national issue of the size, scope, and powers of the federal government. Statewide and locally, there may be LP candidates who want legal casinos in the state and strip clubs in the county, and CP candidate who want both banned. Fine - but they can all sign on to a national agenda of downsizing the size, scope, and power of the federal government:
  • bring the troops home; no entangling alliances; only Congressionally-declared wars from now on;
  • no ceding of legislative, executive, or judicial authority to international organizations;
  • repeal post-9/11 curbs on civil liberties; restore crime control as a state function; defend the Second Amendment;
  • cut spending across the board; abolish unconstitutional departments and programs such as the Department of Education;
  • deregulate and desubsidize the energy industry;
  • work toward a free market in health care;
  • simplify the tax code and cut taxes;
  • restore a Constitutional money system.
Allow differences on these issues:
  • the specifics of tax reform;
  • immigration restrictions;
  • tariffs and trade;
  • the role of Congress and the federal judiciary on First and Fourteenth Amendment issues pertaining to state and local laws;
  • state and local controversies.
The goal of downsizing the federal government are the same in both the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party. There, and only there, can they and should they work together. Perhaps a national platform could be a new "contract with America" based on points of agreement that could be signed by all party candidates. They can run against each other in primaries emphasizing issues where the platform allows for differences. But if and when elected, they will support the contract they had singed onto.

So everyone gets to keep their principles and ideology, while they support a national party that is dedicated to a smaller federal government but doesn't advance a particular ideology. Say what you will about Republicans and Democrats, but they swallow both their principles and their pride to vote for candidates who differ with them on major issues. Indeed, they do this all the time. Why can't advocates of small government do the same, especially if their differences are minor or technical?

Maybe for the same reason we never succeed: most of us who want small government are driven by principle, not power - and although we are all principled, we continually disagree on which principles. So even when we're in agreement 80% of the time, we go nowhere because those who should be our strongest allies are instead our bitterest enemies.

Perhaps non-voting anarchists and spiritual gurus were right all along: we will never achieve freedom through politics.

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